Beauty is defined by a number of parameters, one of the main ones being a hair-free body. Watch any TV show or movie, flip through the pages of any magazine, and you will be bombarded by images of both men and women flaunting picture-perfect bodies with not a strand of unwanted hair anywhere. Hair removal methods have long been used to remove unwanted hair from the face and body. And along with them came problems like ingrown hair.
What Exactly is Ingrown Hair?
Hair grows from the follicle under the skin, then pushes through the skin and grows out. But sometimes, the hair can grow sideways into the skin instead of pushing out. This is known as ingrown hair i.e. hair that has grown into the skin.
Ingrown hair is not a fatal condition and it is not detrimental to your health in any way. However, it can play havoc with your self-esteem since it can mar the appearance of flawless skin – a trait which is highly valued in our beauty-obsessed culture. Here are a few ways in which ingrown hair can affect your skin.
Complications of Ingrown Hair
Ingrown hair may lead to complications if left untreated or if managed badly. Following are the three main problems that may arise:
- Bacterial infection is one of the main complications of ingrown hair if you are in the habit of picking at or scratching the area of the ingrown hair.
- Scarring can also result from scratching as well as from using unreliable methods to treat the ingrown hair.
- And finally, pigmentation may occur on and around the area of the ingrown hair. Sometimes, the products used to treat ingrown hair may be responsible for exacerbating pigmentation.
Symptoms of Ingrown Hair
- Hair is supposed to grow outward. So when it grows sideways, it creates a bump under the skin which is quite obvious to the eye. The bump will look like a little pus-filled pimple or simply be a round, raised bump. If you have a view of the ingrown hair, you may notice that it has a black center. The black bit is where the hair has curled into itself. These bumps can be quite tiny and not easily perceptible. If it has been about two weeks since you shaved, tweezed, or waxed, run your fingers over the skin and feel for irregularities in your skin tone. If you have ingrown hair, you will feel a slight roughness as a result of the bumps.
- In the initial stages of ingrown hair, you will notice that the hair is slightly curled and is not easy to get a hold of with a pair of tweezers because there is a thin layer of skin forming over it. If you leave this alone, the hair will eventually just keep on growing and the skin will get thicker, which will lead to the bumps we mentioned in the previous point.
- The ingrown hair bumps can irritate the skin. There may be a rash-like reddish appearance around the area of the ingrown hair.
- Ingrown hair can feel itchy.
- Sometime, the location of the ingrown hair can be painful or tender to the touch.
- The skin around the ingrown hair can get darker.
You may not experience all these symptoms of ingrown hair. Perhaps yours will just be a few bumps which do not hurt, or maybe your ingrown hair does not go beyond that curly bit under a thin layer of skin. Ingrown hair will develop differently on different parts of the body. Let’s now take a look at the reasons for ingrown hair.
Causes of Ingrown Hair
The structure of each individual hair and the direction in which it grows will determine whether or not you get ingrown hair. A hair follicle which is naturally curved will produce hair that in turn is tightly curled. This is thought to be the main reason that the hair grows in a direction which allows it to re-enter the skin when it starts to grow back after it has been cut. Shaving in particular – especially dry shaving – is believed to make the hair even sharper after it has been cut, thus giving it the momentum to push back into the skin.
We all have a minute percentage of curved hair follicles to some extent. Your hair removal methods can increase or decrease the deviating habits of the hair once it grows back.
When the hair curls back in and penetrates the skin (ingrown hair), your skin treats it like a foreign body. This is why the area becomes inflamed and irritated.
Ingrown hair may also directly be caused when the dead skin cells are not sloughed off quickly enough – as is the case with people who have oily skin – thus blocking the opening where the hair would normally jut out. Having no choice, the hair will grow sideways into the skin.
Following are some of the factors which can increase your risk for ingrown hair. you may be able to reduce the frequency with which you get ingrown hair by attending to those factors which are under your control.
Risk Factors for Ingrown Hair
- Contrary to popular belief, ingrown hair is not a by-product of only shaving or tweezing. Ingrown hair equally affects those who wax or use any other method of hair removal. In both men and women, one of the major reasons for ingrown hair is employing improper shaving techniques.
- Those who have naturally curly thick hair are more prone to ingrown hair. The thicker the hair, the more able it is to penetrate the skin growing sideways to cause painful ingrown hair.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome can mess up the balance of hormones in your body and lead to excessive hair growth. Ingrown hair is a normal side-effect of excessive proliferation of unwanted hair.
- You are more likely to suffer from ingrown hair if you have hirsutism or excessive hair growth.
- Shaving with double-edged razors can also raise your risk for ingrown hair. Such razors are designed to give you a closer shave by cutting the hair off at a very sharp angle. The sharper hair can pierce skin and cause an ingrown hair.
- Wearing tight clothes or exercising after hair removal can both cause chafing of the skin, irritating it enough to cause ingrown hair.
Treatment for Ingrown Hair
If you have the occasional ingrown hair, it is not a problem and you can deal with it on your own with a few simple home remedies which we will look at in a minute. If you are reluctant to take a chance with treating the ingrown hair yourself, you can go to your spa or salon and ask them to help.
However, you should consider getting medical help is if ingrown hair happens very often, every time you resort to hair removal.
Another instance in which medical aid is feasible is if your ingrown hair is a result of hirsutism – a condition which is characterized by excessive hair growth. If the hirsutism is hormone-related, you may be able to take medication to balance hormonal production in your body, thus reducing excess hair growth, which in turn will reduce the instances of ingrown hair.
The following medications may be prescribed to manage ingrown hair.
- A topical retinoid cream will help to remove dead skin cells and allow the hair to surface. Retinoids also help to prevent pigmentation and thickening of skin around an ingrown hair.
- If your skin is particularly inflamed, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to bring it under control.
- As seen before, scratching can cause infection on the area of the ingrown hair. Antibiotic ointment will suffice. But if the infection is severe, you may have to take oral antibiotics.
- If none of the above methods work in getting rid of the ingrown hair, your doctor may have to make a small incision near the ingrown hair and pull out the stubborn growth.
Home Remedies for Ingrown Hair
There are fortunately effective home remedies for ingrown hair so you do not have to resort to medical aid. However, do not aggravate the skin by doing too much. You may just make your ingrown hair situation worse and cause scarring, pigmentation or an infection. Be gentle with your skin when you are treating it for ingrown hair. If the home remedies do not work, leave your skin alone for a few days before trying something else. Usually, the ingrown hair will just fall off on its own during the skin’s normal process of growth.
- You can release an ingrown hair with some simple methods. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles or a wash cloth to rub the area of the ingrown hair in circular motions. This will help exfoliate, and will also dislodge the ingrown hair itself and encourage it to rise to the surface of the skin.
- If the ingrown hair is sufficiently close to the surface of the skin – and if you have the stomach for it – you can try using a a sterilized needle to pull out the hair that is embedded underneath the skin. But do not tweeze this errant hair out; it will just re-grow as an ingrown hair. Leave it alone and let it learn to grow straight outside the skin.
- Swelling or redness can be soothed with application of witch hazel or azulene.
- Do not shave over the area of the ingrown hair. This will not help remove the ingrown hair. It will just irritate the skin and cause further inflammation.
- In fact, it is best to avoid shaving, waxing, tweezing or any other form of hair removal on the area of the ingrown hair until the inflammation has subsided.
Prevention of Ingrown Hair
The only way to prevent ingrown hair altogether is to never remove the hair. But that is not feasible. So your next option is to fine tune your hair removal methods so that there is a lower chance of developing ingrown hair. Here are some tips to prevent ingrown hair.
- Whatever your hair removal method, try doing it after a warm bath. This helps to make the hair softer, plus it opens up your pores, both of which assist in facilitating a smoother shave while reducing the possibility of ingrown hair. Hair that is wet and soft will have a dull, rounded edge when it is cut. It will this be unable to penetrate sideways into the skin, which will force it to grow through the opening of the skin. After you are done removing hair, clean the area and apply a good moisturizer. Since the most preferred method of hair removal is shaving, we will give you a step by step on how to shave correctly so as to prevent ingrown hair in just a bit.
- Something else you can do to keep ingrown hair at bay is exfoliate your skin regularly so that the hair that curls into the skin is not helped along by the dead skin cells on the surface.
- If you use an electric razor to remove hair, do not use the setting which gives the closest shave.
- When using cream-based depilatories, do a test on a small patch of skin first before applying on larger areas. Many depilatories have harsh chemicals which can aggravate the skin.
- The only hair removal method that does not cause ingrown hair is laser hair removal as this gets rid of the follicle altogether.
- Avoid taking very hot showers for a few hours after any form of hair removal. The heat can cause pores to get irritated and may lead to uncomfortable bumps on the skin.
- Avoid shaving products that have alcohol as one of the ingredients.
Correct Shaving Technique to Prevent Ingrown Hair
Shaving is a quick, cheap and easy way to remove hair. Incorrect shaving techniques are often associated with ingrown hair. So let’s take a look at what you can do to improve your technique so as to discourage ingrown hair.
- Get a blade which has a single razor. The blade should be new. Also keep handy a lubricating shaving gel.
- The area that you plan on shaving should be wet with warm water. This softens the hair and opens up the pores of your skin. If you are planning on shaving larger areas like your full hands and legs, or even sensitive areas like the bikini area or your underarms, it is better to just take a warm shower first.
- Before you begin shaving, you can help the hair to stand straight by rubbing your skin with a wash cloth for several minutes.
- Apply the lubricating shaving gel as per the instructions on the bottle.
- Shave in the direction of hair growth, not against it. This prevents too-sharp tips of the hair being formed. Regulate your pressure on the blade, it should be gentle but firm.
- After every stroke of shaving, wash the blade.
- Once you are done shaving, apply a cold compress to the shaved areas to soothe the skin.
- Finally, use an after-shave product (they have these for women too) that has salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is an active ingredient that exfoliates skin in addition to moisturizing, keeping your pores clean, and keeping infection and ingrown hair at bay.